ABU DHABI // A network sharing deal will allow consumers to choose their fixed broadband provider in the next 12 months, senior Etisalat figures say.

The deal has been under discussion for more than three years but Etisalat and du have overcome technical issues and the talks are now purely commercial, said Abdulrahman Almulla, a senior vice president at Etisalat.

“I would say that in less than one year this can be provided. We are working hard towards this target.

“It is very complex, this is not something that can be done overnight. We are over the technical complexities, we are almost there. It is now a commercial matter.

“But we are not at a standstill, these have not been a lost few years, we are in an extended testing phase, and this will improve the outcome for customers.

“It will be sorted out in way that will be a win for all sides, the operators and the customers, the longer we take in testing, the better the outcome will be for everybody,” Mr Almulla said.

Most internet users have no choice of fixed broadband provider, with most homes supplied exclusively by either Etisalat or du, but not both. However, technology known as bitstreaming enables providers to share their networks by effectively renting them out to each other.

Last week the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said bitstreaming would be made compulsory to encourage competition.

However, the networks still need to agree on how much each will pay for the use of the other’s infrastructure.

Because Etisalat controls most fixed broadband access, particularly in Abu Dhabi, there have been suggestions it would not welcome du encroaching on its territory.

Ali Al Ahmed, Etisalat’s chief corporate communications officer, is adamant that Etisalat have at no point tried to block or delay the network sharing process.

“It is a fair question to ask – ‘when will this happen, when will I have a choice?’ – because it has now been over several years,” he admitted.

“But we have to address this from an operations perspective, a technical perspective and a commercial perspective. At the end of the day, it will happen, there is no way out of that.”